You may ask, “Why should I build rapport with my employees?” “I have a professional relationship with my direct reports. We’re working well together. Isn’t that enough?”
The simple, succinct answer is: No.
To find out why people skills should be second nature for any leader, we encourage you to read on.
Your job isn’t just to steer projects to a successful end while staying within budgets and timelines.
Your employees are not your workhorses. They’re so much more than ‘just employees.’
You’re also responsible for these crucial roles:
- Coaching your direct reports through their career development goals
- Understanding their motivations and ambitions and helping them grow
- Helping them maintain a balance between their personal and professional lives
You can’t build trust if all you share with your team members is a transactional relationship.
If you build rapport genuinely with your direct reports, you will engender their trust.
Building rapport with remote employees
If you and your direct reports are working remotely, as most of us are doing now due to the COVID-19 crisis, it is essential to have a good rapport with your employees.
You can’t see them all the time the way you would in a physical office.
If you don’t trust them enough, it will cause tensions and suspicion, and a tendency to micromanage them.
- Use your weekly one on one meetings to work on building rapport with your direct report.
- Get to know him outside of his work persona. Listen to his challenges with projects and issues with maintaining a semblance of work-life balance during this crisis.
- Wherever possible, offer support, resources, and workarounds.
Practice active listening and ask intelligent, meaningful questions. Everyone loves to be heard and feel like they’re valued.
Consider allowing reasonable flexibility at this time, when people are being stretched thin between work and family.
Ways to genuinely build rapport with your employees
It is important to remember that no matter what you do to better your relationship with your direct reports, the key is to be authentic.
If you’re making friendly overtures simply for the sake of building rapport rather than a genuine interest in your direct report, he will know and may resent you for it. It defeats the very purpose of trying to build rapport i.e. creating trust between each other.
We have described 7 steps in which you can approach your direct reports in a more human way:
1Share your failures
Employees often place their managers on a pedestal and consider them perfect. So they tend to hide their mistakes for fear of being rebuked.
This leads to bigger problems in the long run when you’re the one left to deal with the fallout.
To make your direct reports feel psychologically safe with you, you can occasionally share accounts of the mistakes you have made.
It signals to them that you aren’t perfect, so they need not be either.
It also encourages them to feel comfortable enough to own up to their mistakes and discuss ways to fix them.
Such a relaxed environment leads to a stronger working relationship between you and your direct reports.
Productivity and performance will follow suit!
2Talk beyond work
If you only talk about work-related stuff with your direct reports, there will always be a chasm between you.
They will have their guard up and your conversations will be stiff, at best.
Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, has an interesting take on this:
It’s not enough to care only about people’s ability to perform a job. To have a good relationship, you have to be your whole self and care about each of the people who work for you as a human being. It’s not just business; it is personal, and deeply personal.
Why don’t you talk about your direct report’s hobbies, interests, family, children–and see what a difference it makes to the equation between you two?
Of course, you’ll want to establish boundaries and refrain from sharing too much, such as your political opinions or your romantic relationships.
When you converse with your team members, try to have a mix of personal and professional topics.
3Practice active listening
There’s a world of difference between listening and active listening.
If your direct reports feel that you’re really listening to them, only then will they share their ambitions and opinions with you.
Active listening will help you build a stronger organizational culture and prevent problems from being shoved under the carpet because people feel that nobody really cares.
Authenticity is key to building rapport with your direct reports. If you’re putting on an act of caring for your employees, they will see through it.
You will not achieve anything by a superficial show of care.
Your direct reports will not feel comfortable enough around you to speak honestly with you.
We aren’t suggesting that you change your entire personality, but it would be good to take an interest in your team members as ‘people’ instead of ‘workers.’
Praise and recognition can be powerful motivators when used correctly.
Genuine praise boosts the direct report’s confidence and with greater confidence comes better performance.
You’ll want to remember that even positive feedback should be specific and constructive if it is to be meaningful.
Clearly identify what your direct report has done well and what you’d like him to continue doing. Explain the impact of his actions on the overall performance of the team.
6Develop emotional intelligence
Communication is not merely verbal–it consists of other important factors like tone of voice and body language.
Non-verbal cues can provide clues to what a person is really thinking, which may be at variance to what he is saying.
If you learn how to recognize the micro-expressions in your direct report’s face when he is speaking (or not speaking!), it will help you connect better with him.
In turn, your direct report will feel safer communicating with you.
7Ask meaningful questions
You’ll want to adopt a questioning style of coaching and guidance as a manager because it helps your direct reports to be solution-focused instead of problem-focused.
Be genuinely curious about your team members and ask insightful questions that show that you’re interested in them.
Consequently, direct reports feel empowered and accountable for their tasks.
When you encourage a culture of exploration and innovation, your team learns to take calculated risks instead of stagnating with what works.
Team members build enough of a rapport with you to feel comfortable failing in the process of trying something new.
We have an exhaustive list of 500+ questions you can use during your one on one meetings with your direct report.
One on one meetings: The best space to build rapport
Your one on one meetings have the potential to be so much more than a platform to get status updates.
Conducted regularly, you can use the dedicated time to really get to know your direct report and establish a rapport with him.
Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor recommended one on one meetings with the words:
Probably the most important thing you can do to build trust is to spend a little time alone with each of your direct reports on a regular basis.
You can schedule a spot during the meeting to discuss things outside of professional goals, such as your direct report’s hobbies or family.
Use icebreaker questions to set a positive tone for the meeting.
Pro Tip: Don’t overshare personal information. It will have the opposite effect of what you want i.e. loss of boundaries and respect.
You can use a one on one meeting software to organize your meetings and ensure you’re making the best use of this time with your direct report.
Effective One on One Meetings
We built a software that automatically schedules, lets you set agenda, take notes, exchange feedback and track actions – all in one place.
Build good relationships with your direct reports to achieve the business results you want.
You’ll do well to take the time to create a trusting and humane bond.
Genuine rapport with your team members will help you establish a strong foundation.
PS: Read the full guide to employee engagement for remote managers HERE.